The sun beat down on my shoulders as I pushed the stroller up the last hill and into our driveway. It was the middle of July, and Connecticut was trapped in a heatwave, leaving the morning air thick and hot. Clipped into my stroller was an infant car seat lined with ice packs and a clip-on fan to cool my firstborn, then just over a month old. Looking down at her closed eyes and relaxed fists, I let out a sigh of relief, thankful I had finally found one way to ensure she napped—a walk.
And so, hot and exhausted from an hour in the morning heat, I locked the stroller, opened the house door, then removed the car seat. With my arm wrapped around its handle, I shuffled inside, terrified a sudden movement might wake my little girl. Once indoors, I settled the car seat in the dining room, just out of the range of the floor’s only air conditioner. It was a big clunky machine that did little more than rattle the house and cool the air right in front of it, but it was the only unit that fit into our window. And so, knowing my daughter needed the cool air and I couldn’t leave her unattended in the car seat, I plopped myself down next to her into a hard dining room chair.
And started dreaming of a shower.
My ponytail was slick with sweat, the wet ends dripping onto the back of my sundress, whose front was also covered in wet pools of sweat. Whenever I caught a blast of cool air, my entire body shivered with cold.
I needed to shower. To throw the dress in the laundry. To wash and blow out my hair. But my daughter had colic and rarely slept. Could I transfer her to her crib to sleep safely while I cleaned up?
As my dress stuck to my stomach, I decided to try. So I picked up the car seat and started toward the stairs. Before I reached the top, my daughter’s eyes opened, her arms flailing those tiny, clenched fists as she began to scream. Naptime was over.
Slowly, I turned and walked back down the steps and took my screaming baby out of her car seat. Her clothes were wet too, so I took them off and retrieved the baby bathtub, filling it with warm water. Then I lowered my still-crying girl onto the little bath sling and washed her hair, wiped her face, and rubbed down her shoulders until she started to relax. Then I swaddled her in a towel, dressed her in clean clothes, and took her to the couch to nurse.
She fell asleep on top of me, and still craving a shower, I wondered if I could move her to the bassinet across the room. But I was too scared to ruin another nap. Too terrified to do something wrong.
So I stayed in my wet dress. Let my hair dry stiff with sweat. Then showered that night after her bedtime, letting my hair air dry on the couch, my back still wet, my body still cold because I worried the blow dryer might wake her. Then I woke the next day and did it all again – the walk, the failed shower, the cold, wet hair on my back – a grueling cycle that lasted almost six months.
Research shows that infants spend much of their first years developing a sense of self. What is my body, and how can I move it? That is my image, and these are my thoughts. It’s a long, complicated process that requires years of development to solidify. As a new mother, I found this held true for me too.
The birth of my daughter had transformed me into a new person, no longer the confident executive but an insecure mom of a colicky baby, with my own lessons to learn. When can I leave the baby? How long can I let her cry? When should I stop putting her needs above all my own?
That last question took me years to answer. Because by the time my daughter’s colic ended, I’d created a pattern. That showers were unimportant. Mom always came last. So even when my baby started napping, I skipped self-care for laundry and cleaning. For writing manuscripts and paying bills, and catching up on texts. But all the time, I was losing a critical piece of myself, a ritual that brought real happiness. The simple act of showering. Putting on clean clothes. Walking by a mirror and not seeing some tired mom but myself.
It was some time after the birth of my second child that I finally figured this out. Finally saw that I couldn’t be everywhere at once and that if sometimes this caused one of my kids to cry, it was okay. They could wait. They would be okay.
They would be okay. I had heard those words before, of course, repeated to me by friends and family and in self-help books. But my daughter’s colic had left me believing those words were meant for other moms, not those like me.
And yet, by ignoring that message, I had harmed not just myself but the very children I wanted to nurture. Because I hadn’t taught them about self-respect. Nor had I been at my best when I was with them. And so I started to change. I started to shower. I started to make time for myself.
So to all the new moms out there who need to hear this today, it’s okay to take that shower. It’s okay to find time for those things that make you happy. The baby will be okay. You will be okay. And by respecting yourself, you will both grow stronger.